I'd like to kick off my Drinking Buddies contributions by introducing the Beer of the Month! Our trusty webmaster Ryan informs me that the Beer of the Month
Each month i'll pick a style of beer --suggestions are welcome. Subsequently i will drink of this libation, then finally, hopefully after sleeping off the alcohol, i will share with you my insights. This month's beer will be...
The Noble Wheat Ale
I admit i spent the better part of thirty minutes researching and double-checking my memory in regards to which beers fall into which category. I should disclose that when i began homebrewing, my brother Ryan gifted me a copy of John Palmer's book How to Brew, which i still consult prior to every new beer idea. He describes with the following chart and description.
Figure 111 - Relative Flavors of Beer Styles This chart is not to any scale but is a subjective attempt to describe how different beer styles taste relative to one another. As an over-simplification, a beer may be Malty - Sweet, Malty - Bitter, Fruity - Sweet, or Fruity - Bitter. Each beer style was placed on the chart via a great deal of "arm waving". The flavors often overlap between styles, and the variation within a single style can often bridge the positions of the styles next to it. This chart also fails to describe a beer's intensity. Some beer styles like Imperial Stout and Barleywine can literally cover half the chart in their complexity. A beer like Coors Light™ would be smack-dab in the middle (and probably on another plane behind the chart). As I said above, this is an oversimplified attempt to give you a first glance at how a lot of the beer styles relate to one another.
The entirety of How to Brew is available totally free online at www.howtobrew.com. I strongly suggest actually purchasing the book though, as laptops in the kitchen and splashing pots of boiling wort do NOT mix.
Of course, the fruity-malty and bitter-sweet spectra don't fully describe the many qualities of a beer that make it distinctive. There's also appearance, aroma, and the perennial favorite, mouthfeel. Historically there are specific rules which govern how certain styles are made, but with the rising popularity of microbreweries and homebrewing these distinctions are fading. As i understand it, much of the popularity of pilseners in Pilsen or ESBs in England had to do with the quality and chemistry of the water available in those locations. These days you can just buy spring water, or if you're feeling really adventurous you could brew with whatever comes out of your tap. Depending on the company you bought the spring water from, it might be the same thing. Larger breweries are a bit more at the mercy of the local water supply, but they also have the option of experimenting with adding trace minerals themselves.
The point is that there's no one definition for any particular style, so if you're offended that i lump light lagers (e.g. High Life Light) in with adjunct lagers (Natural Ice), well, you can just go soak your head, mister. Seriously though, i'm not going to make any beer Beer of the Month that you can buy in the infamous "dirty thirty." If you're drinking along with the Beer of the Month, you're welcome.
What was i writing about? Right. Hefeweizens. Let's talk about three of them. Maybe that will be a recurring Beer of the Month theme, discussing three beers. I don't know, i'm not clairvoyant.
Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier
This beer holds two distinctions in my mind. First, it is the archetype, the type specimen, the epitome, even! of a hefeweizen. Secondly, it is entirely impossible to pronounce intelligibly in a crowded bar. Ratebeer.com gives this beer a resounding endorsement with an absolute score of 99 and a style score of 100 (the internets seem to have a strong preference for stouts and IPAs). Like all hefeweizens, the Weihenstephaner entry has a nice cloudy haze to it, a product of the suspended yeast particles that remain unfiltered. I'd be interested in brewing a hefeweizen, but i seem to have mediocre luck picking yeasts, so i hesitate to brew a style that relies so heavily on a good yeast flavor. Perhaps one of our readers has a suggestion.
The Hefe Weissbier has a pleasant but not overpowering bananas and cloves flavor to it. I've had a few estery brews from friends (and from commercial brewers!) that, as John Palmer puts it, could "flag down a barrel full of monkeys". This beer instead nicely complements the fruitiness with soft hops and heavy carbonation, a combination which results in a very full mouthfeel.
One of my favorite parts of drinking a hefeweizen is pouring it into a pilsener (or weizen) glass. Invert the glass over the bottle, then flip both back over and slowly pull the bottle out of the glass, allowing the beer to flow straight down.
Bell's Oberon Ale
This seasonal ale is a staple of the Michigan beer scene. I particularly enjoy that it's something everyone, even devoted drinkers of the "Champagne of Beers" Miller High Life, seems to be able to agree is "good beer". Oberon is a fairly light varietal as craft beer goes and not too heavy on the hops. Spices are noticeable along with a refreshing orange flavor. Some people enjoy a slice of orange in their Oberon, which doesn't offend me, though i think it pushes the flavor closer to a shandy. Wikipedia informs me that "shandygaff" is an acceptable alternate word choice, which is just wonderful.
Blue Moon Belgian White
This witbier is often referred to simply as a "Blue Moon", which is terribly confusing since the Blue Moon label (owned by Coors) produces a dozen different styles of beer, ranging from dubbels (the Winter Abbey Ale) to pale ales (the Pale Moon). The comparison to Oberon is inevitable, at least in Michigan bars, as everyone seems to have a strong preference one way or the other. The very first Blue Moon i ever tasted was badly skunked, and i've been unable to shake that distaste, so i personally fall on the Oberon side of that debate. While the base of the Belgian White is very similar to Oberon, the spices and orange are replaced with a coriander and lemon/grapefruit flavor.
If you have thoughts on these three beers, or on the Wheat Ale style in general, i want to hear what you have to say! Also leave suggestions here for next month's Beer of the Month.